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10.18.2016

Biomedical Engineering Targets Drunk Driving with new Technology

alcohol detection system

The leading causes of accidental deaths in the United States is drunk driving. This reckless behavior not only takes the lives of those that are behind the wheel, but also of innocent passengers or drivers of other cars on the roads totaling nearly 10,000 people each year. Preventing drunk driving has been the goal of may national organizations. The act of stopping someone who has had too much to drink can save much more than just one life.

Monitoring devices have been used to gauge and alert officials of alcohol use for years. However, a new device measures alcohol levels in sweat. It looks like a small, wearable tattoo that has embedded wireless nanotechnology that monitors the alcohol content. The device then talks to the drinker’s phone and alerts them if they have too much alcohol in their system. It was developed by a group of engineers at the University of California San Diego in La Jolla in conjunction with the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB).

“It resembles a temporary tattoo, but is actually a biosensor patch that is embedded with several flexible wireless components. One component releases a chemical that stimulates perspiration on the skin below the patch. Another component senses changes in the electrical current flowing through the generated sweat, which measures alcohol levels and sends them to the user’s cell phone,” explained Seila Selimovic, Ph.D. and director of the NIBIB Program in Tissue Chips.

The benefits of this device and similar derivatives of this technology can have many uses. In terms of the speed of detection, there has been nothing like it. According to Patrick Mercier, Ph.D. at UCSD’s Jacobs School of Engineering and co-senior author, “measuring alcohol in sweat has been attempted before, but those technologies took 2-3 hours to measure alcohol levels. Our patch sends alcohol levels to your smartphone in just 8 minutes, making real-time alcohol monitoring possible, practical, and personal.”

The question now is if people will use the app to prevent alcohol-related mistakes. Preventing drunk driving is just one benefit of this device. Because the device can be worn on the arm, underneath clothing and out of view from others this attractive feature may be appealing to users and can help them avoid over drinking, getting behind the wheel with someone else who has been drinking or getting involved in risky decisions because of alcohol. This sort of monitoring may even be able to be adapted for longer-range use for people on probation, or test for other substances in the future as well.

Incorporating technology into alcohol education certainly speaks to a younger generation and may help save thousands of lives. It can act as an intervention of sorts and a tool to mitigate the problems associated with alcohol consumption.

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